When Anger Can Be a Good thing

October 23, 2019

We have all been in situations where we’re angry, and experience unpleasant emotions that bubble up from inside, and we must decide how to respond to them. Sometimes this feeling stems from actions taken by family or friends, an unexpected turn of events, a missed appointment, or an accident. Other times we are angry at ourselves. Most of us have been taught that anger is always bad, and should be suppressed. We are told to let go of anger as fast as we can. But is there something more to anger than just the intense negative emotion? Can being angry serve us in any constructive ways? 

There are a myriad of tools and tricks out there on how to quickly control one's anger. Examples include counting down from 10, deep breathing, yoga, and taking walks on the beach or in nature. All of these can be really beneficial in helping us control our emotions instead of being controlled by them. However, there are upsides to some types of anger — it’s a real and legitimate emotion, and it can teach us things about dealing with discomfort and disappointment. What most anger management books and guides do not mention is the fact that sometimes anger can be a good thing. 

Experiencing anger for short periods of time can help us develop into more complex, compassionate, and humble human beings. Here are some of the ways anger can serve us: 

Prepares the Body for Action

Anger can trigger our fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline into our system. During this time, our body is hypervigilant and our focus is sharpened. Adrenaline provides our bodies with extra energy we need to take on whatever comes our way. If the body stays in this fight-or-flight mode for too long, it can lead to chronic health problems, but for dealing with situations that require immediate action, the temporary adrenaline rush can be helpful. This doesn’t mean we should give full vent to anger, especially if it’s unjustified anger, but at times it can be a useful motivator, driving us to act.

Motivates Us to Advocate

Sometimes anger rises up in response to an injustice we see, or harm done to others. Anger on behalf of someone vulnerable being wronged or oppressed can motivate us to act on their behalf and stand up for others. Sometimes the opposite of anger is not happiness, but apathy. In other words, when you see someone being wronged and it makes you angry, it could be that anger which spurs you on to acts of kindness and service

Provides an Opportunity for Insight

Often anger is a temporary stand-in for another emotion. For example, we could be feeling hurt, afraid, or jealous, and subconsciously cloak those feelings with anger in an attempt to defend ourselves. Feeling anger, like feeling physical pain, can be a signal that there’s an unaddressed issue we should be paying attention to. If we can learn to notice what triggers our anger, and take a closer look at what we’re really feeling, we can gain valuable insights about ourselves that can help us grow. For example, if you notice that you feel angry every time something happens that you can’t control, that could be a signal that what you’re really feeling is fear about the future, and you can start to get a better understanding of why you’re afraid. 

Calm After The Storm

When people get angry there are physical shifts and changes in the body. The heart rate quickens, the body temperature rises, and breath starts to shorten. If you suppress anger emotions too long, then those physical anger symptoms just continue, with potentially more serious consequences. But if you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your anger and express it in a healthy way, there is a calming sense that washes over you once the feelings of anger have subsided. This allows your body to reset and focus so you can move on, rather than focusing on maintaining composure while withholding your anger. However, it's important that as you work through your anger, you don't vent it by mistreating other people, or saying things you'll regret later.

The Bottom Line

Any emotion, whether it feels good or bad, can be helpful or harmful. Emotions themselves are not bad, they’re an essential part of the human experience. How we choose to respond to them is up to us. While it’s not good to let our emotions take the reigns and drive our behavior (especially if it leads us to mistreat others or violate our conscience), it’s also not good to try to stuff them down, ignore them, or let them fester. Instead, we should take full advantage of the opportunities our emotions present to help us understand ourselves and others better.

So next time you find yourself just holding your breath to keep your anger under control, or apologizing for getting upset, know that there are some positive effects of getting or feeling angry, if you’re willing to explore them. 

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